Adventures At The Dam Short Film Festival In Boulder City

Readers of this particular blog know I’m a Vegas enthusiast.  What you may not know is that I’m a filmmaker as well.  Actually…. let me qualify that.  I’ve made a film.  I’m no more Filmmaker than I am Travel Blogger, but it’s fair to say I’ve dabbled in both.  For a little back story, I made a short film called “To Do List”.  If you really want to dive into that for a couple of minutes, here’s a link from a blog post I wrote about just that….

That Time I Wrote/Directed/Acted In A Short Film

For those that don’t (or for those that did and have now returned), I would like to tell you the story of how I finally sort of went to Las Vegas on business.  (which is a dream of mine… I hear people all the time telling me they had to go to Vegas for a conference.  Poor souls.  Why can’t I have a job like that?).  Anyways, here it goes…

So I made a short film, and I don’t know what the end game is for a short film, other than showing it to audiences.  There’s certainly no money in it (that I’m aware of).  What better audience than a film festival, of which there are hundreds all over the world.  So my goal was to try to get it into a film festival (ideally several), and potentially go to some of them to see what the audience thought of it and so on.  When looking for potential festivals, I was first hoping for something local so that family and friends could attend.  Failing that, I was hoping for something within a reasonable distance so I could travel there, and see it first hand.  Road trips are ideal because they aren’t as expensive.  From a budget standpoint I probably wasn’t going to be able to fly to any of them, unless I rolled it into a family vacation.

So when I was looking at potential festivals, I quietly wondered if there was any way this film could take me to Las Vegas again.  I hadn’t been since 2015, and I was getting the itch.  There weren’t too many of them out there, but one did catch my eye.  The Dam Short Film Festival.

It was in Boulder City which isn’t too far from Vegas.  It’s best known as the home of the Hoover Dam, and I had been once before, although never gone into town which was an over-sight on my part.  I made sure to submit to that festival in particular as well as whatever else I thought I could afford and made sense.  More than just location, I liked that this festival specialized in short films.  Most festivals show a few shorts, but also have a lot of documentaries and feature-length films, lessening your chances of getting in.

Last year after my submission process had started, my wife and I started chatting about what to do in 2018 for vacation.  She was the one that casually mentioned ‘Vegas again?’, and when she did, the wheels started turning.  I told her there was this festival in February that I was submitting to.  Obviously I didn’t think I’d get in, but if the perfect storm scenario occurred, wouldn’t it be cool if we were in Vegas at that time?  So we agreed to do it, but because the festival ran from Thursday to Sunday, and we were there from Saturday to Saturday, I was going to have to choose which half of the festival I would want to see.  I chose for the 2nd half and we made our travel arrangements.

Fast forward a few months, and after a lot of rejections my film had finally been selected to a festival in Tampa Bay.  I didn’t end up going because the timing was awkward, but after reading so many rejection emails it was nice to have that breakthrough.  I was still really hoping for something I would be able to attend, but it was really nice not to get ‘shut out’.  I finally got an email from the Dam Short Film Festival, and as I saw the subject line of the email, I knew I was about to find out.  I really really wanted this one, but I assumed I wouldn’t get it.  Before I clicked on that email I took a moment to dream one last time as you would before checking the numbers on your lottery ticket.  I opened the email and the first word was ‘Congratulations!!’. Woooohooooo!!!!!  Man, I was so excited.  I felt like a little kid.  So I went to their website to check out their schedule because I knew I was only going to be there for half of the festival.  I was flying in on the 10th, and when I saw To Do List was going to be screening on the 9th, I had to go out and show my wife the puppy dog eyes.  I mean I can’t have my film showing in Nevada the day before I arrive.  That’s just too close.  It would be different if I hadn’t already planned on going there.  She agreed, so we made arrangements for me to fly out Thursday night, and I convinced my friend Jay who was the Cinematographer of the film to fly out for the weekend too.

So on Thursday February 8th, off we flew to Las Vegas.  It was almost midnight when the plane finally landed, which was 3 am to us.  We had to rent a car and drive out to Henderson.  I drove through the strip just to get re-acquainted.  See you in a couple of days, Vegas!!!  The festival put us up in a Hotel called The Railroad Pass, which is the oldest Casino Hotel in Nevada.  It was kind of on its own…. I hate to use the words ‘in the middle of nowhere’, but in the middle of the night, it was just this bright shiny light off in the distance.  If I had to describe the decor, I would use the word ‘Smoky Nostalgia’.  There was a no-nonsense ‘old school’ steakhouse in there that I would have loved to have tried, but the 24 hour restaurant that served up some corned beef hash at what seemed like 4:30 am to me was the perfect welcome.  Also, my understanding is that not a lot of festivals would put you up for 2 nights just for a short film.  That’s not lost on us.

Friday was film day.  Our program ‘The Great White North’ was the first one, and was going to kick off at noon, so Jay and I got up just early enough so we could go into Boulder City and have a nice breakfast in town before going to see our film.

I have a Trip Advisor app on my phone.  I don’t mess around with food when I’m in another town, and the Coffee Cup Cafe was the spot according to my research.  Jay would want the world to know that they have the best Huevos Rancheros that he’s ever had.  Perfect start to the perfect day. http://worldfamouscoffeecup.com/

The part of town that the theater is in, is cute.  I wish we had more time to just walk around and look in the shops and stuff.  I don’t like to use the word quaint….. it’s charming!!!!  Boulder City was built for the workers who built the Hoover Dam.  The Boulder Theater was built in the 1930’s and for a while was the only air-conditioned building in town.  Desi Arnaz Jr. (The baby from I Love Lucy) bought it and had it restored a few years back, and that’s where I would see ‘To Do List’ in the theater for the first time.

We headed over to the Boulder Dam Hotel which is right beside the theater and served as the headquarters for the festival.  We signed in, picked up our Swag Bag, and off to the show we went.

The fun thing about seeing your own film with total strangers is that you get an unfiltered response that you wouldn’t get from friends or family.  ‘To Do List’ is a comedy, so for me it’s important to know if people actually find it funny.  The screening at the Boulder Theater was more than I could have hoped for.  Every moment in the film that I’d hoped to get a response, the crowd was on it.  Even the most subtle gags got the necessary snicker or two that I had been hoping for.  It went really well.  We met a couple of Filmmakers during the Q&A session, and went for some afternoon beers after.  Sat on the patio at The Boulder Dam Brewing Company Pub, and I enjoyed some of their Wheat Beer while occasionally thinking about all the Canadian suckers that were at work on a cold Friday afternoon, while I was chilling like a famous movie director (all of that is true except for the famous part).  https://www.boulderdambrewing.com/

After beers, some of these guys went to see the Hoover Dam.  Jay and I went out for lunch, and drove around a bit to take some pictures.  I think he must have a lot of the cool ones on his camera, but Boulder City is really picturesque.  Especially when you drive over to Lake Mead and see the mountains.  I could have spent all day doing that, but we wanted to go back to the hotel and take a nap before the filmmaker meet and greet in the early evening.  Here’s a picture of Jay taking a picture of Jay.

We went back to Boulder.  Attended the meet and greet, and later went to see the program for music videos to support a couple of the guys we made friends with earlier in the day who were from Paris, France.  They ended up winning the prize for best music video.  We all went out for drinks after that.  The festival provided shuttles between the hotel and Boulder City, so everyone was able to have a good time without worrying about driving.  I can’t say enough about the Dam Short Film Festival.  They really thought of everything, and it was such a good experience.

The next morning we checked out and headed to Las Vegas, where my wife and son would be flying in for what was supposed to be the beginning of my vacation.  There was an awards ceremony back on Boulder City on Sunday night.  Jay and I had to do some soul-searching as to whether we should go back for that or not.  Jay was flying out early Monday morning, so he had to choose between a last night on the Las Vegas strip, or going back to Boulder City for an awards ceremony when there was only a slim chance we would win an award.  Don’t get me wrong.  I felt like our film performed well in the slot that we were in, but there were only 2 other comedies in that slot.  The 4 day festival had approximately 26 more of them.  I just felt like there was no way, but……

We won.  Bittersweet.  If I knew, we totally would have gone back for it.  Apparently they screened all the winners again, so I missed out on the opportunity to see the film screened one more time in front of a mostly new audience.  Still though…. while I really still regret that, and it still bugs me even as I’m typing this…… I have to say, from not really thinking we would ever get into that festival or any others, to getting in, being able to actually go, and then winning an award????  I can’t complain about my luck too much.  I mean until I got to Vegas and let those casinos clean me out… that was bad luck, but all the important stuff was amazing!

 

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The Linq Promenade

2015 has not been a stellar year for my Vegas blog.  Particularly since I hadn’t been to Vegas in a year and a half, and was blogging off fumes of previous adventures.  I finally got back there for a week in October….. I say finally like I don’t find a way to go once a year, and there are people who have never been, but for me it felt right to say finally ok?

What was new in Vegas?  In a year and a half, you’d be surprised.  It’s partially why I love the place, but it never stops evolving, and just when you think there’s just no way it can amass any more stuff, it amasses more stuff.  The most improved cluster on the strip since I was last there, is the stretch between Bally’s and The Linq.  The Linq hotel is in the area where the Imperial Palace used to be, and if you remember Imperial Palace, you remember low ceilings and shortening your life expectancy with the second-hand smoke in a casino where your dealer was almost always a celebrity impersonator of some sort.  It had its charm and the rooms were cheap and cheerful, but as much as I love a bargain, I always ponied up for something better.  The Linq looks nice!  We had breakfast there a couple of times.  Both times we were trying to eat at Hash House A-go-go, but the lineups were in excess of 45 minutes both times.  I’ve seen pics of the food there.  It looks wild.  Oh well, another good reason to go back ;).  We ate at Guy Fieri’s restaurant instead the first time, and checked out Chayo’s Mexican kitchen and Tequila Bar.  Guy’s had a great breakfast.  Chayo’s is probably not known for their breakfast, but it was decent still.  Below is an example of a breakfast item at Guy Fieri’s.  I don’t know what it is because the waitress brought it to me by mistake.  I really wanted it, but they caught the mistake before I could start eating it.  Mine tasted good too, but I’m using this pic because of the presentation.

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At Bally’s they got rid of that huge moving sidewalk that brought you from the strip to the casino entrance, and traded it for a mini shopping center clustered with tiny stores, and a huge Starbucks.  Why I didn’t take a picture of that is a mystery, but I quite liked walking through those little shops instead of the dead space which was the moving sidewalk before.  Next time you’re there, you won’t have to go out of your way to see what I’m talking about.  It’s all very close to the sidewalk on the strip.

Across the road, the former Wild Bill’s Gambling Saloon has been replaced with a boutique hotel called The Cromwell.  I do remember spending a morning in Wild Bill’s playing $5 blackjack while the rest of Vegas (or the people I was travelling with) were still asleep.  The Cromwell is a pretty nice facelift though.  It features a restaurant from celebrity chef Giada De Laurentis.  We didn’t get in there this time, but it was on the list.  You should see the list though.

Finally The Linq Promenade……

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Right in between The Flamingo and the Linq Hotels is a huge alley way that features a lot of brand new shops and restaurants.  Not to mention the High Roller which is the largest Observation Wheel (Ferris Wheel?) in the world.  No I didn’t go on that.  Yes it is on the list.  Places I did go (aside from previously mentioned breakfast spots at Linq) were Yard House, The Tilted Kilt, and Flour & Barley Brick Oven Pizza.  My wife and I don’t always love eating outside.  Drinking is different, but when I’m eating, I don’t like bugs or dealing with the elements, call me soft, I don’t care.  When we went to the Flour & Barley it was such a perfect evening.  It had probably cooled down to about 22 degrees celsius.  There was no wind, and the sun had gone down.  I don’t ever remember enjoying dining on a patio as much as I did here.  The Linq Promenade has several street performers in the evening.  They’re spread out so there’s always one within ear shot.  When the girl near our patio set up shop, I sort of groaned like she was going to end our perfect evening, but she moved from Sam Cooke to Fleetwood Mac effortlessly.  I’m pretty picky with music, but she was very entertaining.

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Other fun things on the Promenade were a new version of O’Shea’s casino, The Brooklyn Bowl, Ghirardelli store, Haute Doggery, a great little store called Kitson (kind of Urban Outfitterish) which my son loved, and of course Sprinkles which boasts of the world’s first Cupcake ATM which dispenses fresh cupcakes 24/7.  Only in Vegas would this be available, and only in Vegas SHOULD this be available, because there is a very real possibility of a 4:30 am cupcake emergency in this town, but now it’s covered.  Who thinks of these things?

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In summary, The Linq Promenade is so much better than I even thought it could be.  I would argue it’s now on a short list of my favourite places in Vegas.  We happened to be staying a few blocks away from it, which is why I ended up there so many times.  I was off strip and was simply using it as a path to get to the strip, but on some occasions I didn’t even make it to the strip because I had everything I needed on the Promenade.

 

Vegas Burgers

So……Hungry……Right……Now……

I feel like a burger.  I also feel like going to Vegas.  You know what they have in Vegas??  Burgers!!!  Among other things.  I’ve been trying not to think about Vegas.  Once I come back from there, I have a cooling down period where I still get a kick out of looking at photos, and reminiscing about my trip.  Then a sadness comes over me when I realize that I won’t be headed back anytime soon.  Then the travel deals start coming by every available media outlet.  Then my wife and I start giving each other that look like, ‘We really should go somewhere else this time…… let’s just compare prices……..oh…… Vegas looks cheaper than that other place………Is it weird if we go again?……..’  It goes on and on.  Who knows when we’ll end up there again.  Maybe sooner than later.  In the meantime, let’s talk about hamburgers.

I’m not the foremost expert on hamburgers in Las Vegas.  Not even close.  I’m thinking that I can tell you a few things, and maybe you can tell me a few things.  I want to know what Vegas burger I should try next.  Any input would be appreciated.

The first place I’ll probably go that I haven’t tried yet is……

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The last time I was in Vegas, I walked by here on the day that it opened for the first time, about an hour before it opened.  As you can see, there was already a small lineup.

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Bobby Flay was there promoting it, and I took a picture through the window like some strange celebrity gawker.  As much as I like him, and have total faith that he would make a good burger, I had just finished a buffet breakfast at the Cosmopolitan, and wasn’t going to eat for another 4 or 5 hours.  Friends of mine,  who travelled to Vegas about a month later, ate there twice, and provided me with this picture of the New Mexico Burger.  Note the location of the potato chips.

Bobby Flay New Mexico Burger

 

Some of my favourite Vegas burgers include…….

The Rising Sun Burger at Holstein’s (Cosmopolitan).  Man, I wish I took a picture.  Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo & Tempura Avocado.  This was a recommendation from the waiter.

The Euro Burger at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR (Planet Hollywood).  Truffle Aioli, Goat Cheese, Arugula, Oven Roasted Tomato.  I ate this before going to a UNLV basketball game.  Go Rebels!!

The Famous Blue Cheese Burger at Strip Burger.  Normal-ish ingredients other than the blue cheese, but this was the best cooked burger I had.  There could have been nothing on it, and it would have been amazing.  This is up near Fashion Show Mall, right on the strip.

ABC Burger at Serendipity 3 (Caesar’s Palace).  Avocado, Brie and Caramelized Onions.  This one I took a picture of.  Notice how proud I look.

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What Burgers should I try next time I go???

5 Things I Love About Fremont St.

Yet another reason I love to go to Las Vegas is the Fremont Street Experience.  For those that haven’t been, it’s a taste of Old Vegas.  There’s something nostalgic and awesome about some of these older casinos, and all the gaudy lights they have on their signs.  It’s an absolute drain of electricity, but c’mon…… it’s also a great spectacle that you don’t want to miss.  There are quite a few hotels and casinos here that are within walking distance, and the street is closed off to vehicles, so there’s a lot going on outside the casinos as well.  It’s best to visit in the evening, so you can see the light show they put on.  Like other parts of Vegas, you can’t possibly go to all the bars and restaurants in one trip, so if you’re like me you’re always looking to try something different every time you’re there.  There are a few things that I can vouch for, but I’ve still got lots of research ahead of me. 

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Here are 5 things that I love about Fremont St.

1.  It’s not anywhere near as expensive as the strip.  These are older hotels and casinos, and they are losing business to a lot of the latest and greatest properties.  They know they can’t stand up to the hotels on the strip, but the prices reflect that.  The gambling is cheaper, the food is cheaper, the drinks are cheaper.  If you find you’re in Vegas and running out of money a little faster than you’d hoped, you can definitely stretch your dollar out a bit further at Fremont St. 

2.  Call me ignorant, but I can’t get enough of the freedom of walking out onto the sidewalk with a bottle of beer.  You can do this anywhere in Vegas mind you, but at the Fremont Hotel, Corona and Heineken bottles are $2 all the time.  Where else can you get road beers for that price?

3.  The light show they have after dark, which changes periodically (so is different every time I travel there) is really cool.  The one that sticks out in my mind was a tribute to the band ‘KISS’.  This is happening in the middle of the street at night-time usually about once an hour.  Grab a $2 beer and enjoy the free entertainment!!

4.  There is zip lining available as well.  I’m too scared to do it, but it looks really fun.

5.  Deals on Prime Rib Dinners.  I’ve had the one at Tony Roma’s at Fremont Hotel, and the one at the Gold Spike although they closed their doors this year 😦  I can’t wait to try more of them!!!

Do you know of any cool things for me to check out next time I’m there?

Buffet Fantasies

As many times as I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve never done the Buffet of Buffets 24 Hour Pass.  I’ve vowed to many a time.  When I’m with my wife, she usually squashes the idea because she’s half my size, and couldn’t possibly do the type of damage that I’m confident I could do.  She likes to pull the ‘I’m trying to save your life’ card when denying me this fantasy of mine.  So sweet.

For context I should explain what the Buffet of Buffets promotion is.  On the Las Vegas strip, a fair number of the hotels are owned by 2 ownership groups.  One of which is Caesars.  They own Harrah’s, Paris, Rio, Bally’s, The Quad, Flamingo, and of course Caesar’s Palace.  This is great if you want to sign up for a rewards program.  This way you don’t have to stay in the same casino to rack up rewards points, as long as they’re affiliated with the same group of hotels.

If you haven’t been to Vegas, it’s important to understand that almost every hotel has a buffet restaurant.   When you can’t decide what you want to eat, or you feel like stuffing your face to within an inch of its life, the buffet is for you.  Caesars not only has a quality rewards program, but they have a 24 hour pass for their buffets.  What this means (not that any of you should need clarification, but some of you might have started drooling, so let me repeat) is that for 24 hours, you can go to the buffets at any of those hotels for one price $49.99.

DISCLAIMER…… This is a picture of an advertisement on the side of Bally’s that I took in 2010.  IT IS NO LONGER $39.99, but can you imagine??????

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I’ve planned out in my head a million times which ones I would go to, in which order, and how I can screw the system by actually getting 4 meals out of it.  As if I could ever eat 4 buffet meals in 24 hours.

One day Vegas…. one day!!!  I will get that Buffet Pass!  I can feel my arteries seizing up just thinking about it 🙂

I thought I’d finish this post by mentioning which hotel buffets I’d been to in Vegas.

– Flavors (Harrah’s)

– Carnival World Buffet (Rio)

– Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan)

– The Buffet (Aria)

– Paradise Buffet (Fremont)

– Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)

– MGM Grand Buffet (Uhhh I forgot which hotel this one is ….. oh yeah….. MGM Grand)

– Excalibur Buffet (The Excalibur)

– Spice Market Buffet (Planet Hollywood)

– The Las Vegas Hilton Buffet (LVH)

I will say that the Wicked Spoon is the best one I’ve been to, and Flavors at Harrah’s was probably my favorite ‘bang for the buck’ one.

Which buffets not listed here must I try next????

 

 

Father’s Day In Vegas??

Father’s Day is fast approaching and it makes me want to go to Las Vegas.  I know what you’re thinking….. What doesn’t make you want to go to Las Vegas??  Valid point.  I guess the Father’s Day-Vegas connection started last year.  I only became a father for the first time last October, but since my wife was 5 months pregnant last June, we celebrated Father’s Day in anticipation of me being a father.  The fact that we were in Vegas was totally unrelated.  Some call it a Babymoon.  It’s that last trip before crazy times ensue.  I can think of no better place to be than my beloved Las Vegas.

Father’s Day started for me last year at ‘Mon Ami Gabi’ which is an incredible French Bistro at the Paris Hotel.  If you’ve spent anytime in Vegas, you’ve seen it, because they have some seating that actually overlooks the strip.  We were dining in the inside portion of the restaurant because, let’s face it….. my wife was pregnant and it’s Las Vegas in June which is extremely warm.  I got a corned beef hash with poached eggs.  My wife got oatmeal, with a side of bacon.  I’m not sure what they did with her bacon, but it was the BEST BACON EVER, and I know that sounds cliché, but it was ridiculously good.  So ridiculous… So good…. I remember thinking as I was eating this meal that it could very well be the best breakfast I ever had in my entire life.  IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!  We just looked the menu up on-line, and it said ‘Date Glazed Bacon’.  I’m pretty sure that was it.  So do yourselves a favour.  Get on a plane.  Fly there now.  Celebrate Father’s Day the way I did last year.  We ate there again later in the week, even though I have a thing against eating in the same restaurant twice when I’m on a trip.  We had to break that rule.  Another couple we knew had arrived for the following weekend, and the way I was talking????  They had to go too.

After brunch we jumped in a cab, and headed to Cashman Field to watch the Las Vegas 51’s game.  They were the AAA team of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays at the time, although they no longer are.  This didn’t go so well.  First it was crazy hot, and my wife was giving me the look in the 2nd inning.  Second, the 51’s pitchers were getting lit up to the tune of 12 runs in 3 innings, making it impossible for anything good to come out of the game.  I made a mental note to go to a night game next time.  It was probably irresponsible to bring my pregnant wife to an outdoor ballpark in 105 degree heat, but hey……. It’s not the craziest thing someone ever did in Vegas.

Cashman Field

Cashman Field

After we went back to the hotel to get changed, we headed to the Mirage to watch ‘LOVE’ which is the Beatles Cirque du Soleil show.  If you love the Beatles, love dancing, love performance, love music, or basically love anything, you need to see this.  It was awesome!  My first Cirque show (which is strange since you could throw a golf ball down the street and hit about 8 of them), but it won’t be my last.  We got half price tickets, which helped.

We FINished the night off at the restaurant FIN which serves upscale Chinese food also at the Mirage.  I don’t remember what all we ordered, but I do remember it being a perfect ending to an amazing day.  That was the first day of that particular trip, which started off with a bang!